Superheroes, Children & Us

superheroesThis week, my son (and I, vicariously through my son’s experience) received some rather difficult news to swallow. That news is this: Superheroes don’t exist.

Plain and simple.

How was such news announced? At school, following my son expressing his desire to be a super policeman when he grows up, supposedly his first grade teacher proceeded to share the deflating message that superheroes aren’t actually real. The carpet was pulled right out from under his feet. He was left very confused. Everything he wanted to be when he grew up was impossible to be.

Now, before anyone wants to throw stones at this teacher (or perhaps you’re in agreement with her), let me say that she seems a pretty good teacher. My son has enjoyed his first two weeks of first grade. He’s doing well. So we’re on the right track.

Not only that, but I must remember we received the report from my 6-year old. Something could have been misunderstood on his part, though I do wonder if the topic was broached with as much care as it should have been, knowing my son’s dreams were dashed.

So, I’m not exactly certain how it all played out. But there is a part of me that would be irked if his teacher had actually shared such information. To tell a 6-year old, or 36-year old as myself, that superheroes don’t exist is a flat out lie. Yes, you heard me. Of course, superheroes exist! To tell anyone they don’t is a problematic statement, if you ask me.

I know, I know. There’s the lovely adult explanation. Superman, Batman, Captain America, the Hulk, and all the others (including Santa Claus) are simply fictional characters. We love them, but they aren’t real. They are for 6-year olds, possibly 10-year olds. But not adults. People don’t fly, slide down chimneys, nor wear outrageous spandex for costumes.

I say, “Rubbish!”

I’m not going to get into Santa Claus here, I’ve done that before and I might revisit it as we near Christmas. But the same thinking applies whether we’re talking about Superman, Santa Claus, or Fast Fly (a character I’ve created in the stories I tell my 2 boys). We have to think through the underlying reason why we read and tell these stories.

I mean, if you want to get technical, think about this: Why would we, as adults, attend any kind of movie or read much of any kind of book if we aren’t willing to consider the existence of superheroes? Why would any adult get involved in any storytelling if this is all just a sham? Why would we read Lord of the Rings? Why would we watch Finding Neverland? Why would we buy our sons a Batman comic or our daughters a Frozen poster? Why would we watch a Shakespeare play?

Give me one good reason…if it’s all just fake?!

Here’s the problem we have in our post-Enlightenment, modernist world – yes, I love pointing out the problems of such a perspective. Everything has to run through the cerebral side, be comprehended by the rational, seen with the eyes (or microscope), touched with the fingers. That is what makes things real.

But what so many of us, even Christians, fail to remember is that much of life calls for us to engage with things that are not as “evidence-based” or “empirical” as we would like. Mass can be measured by E=MC2. But what of art, musical taste, a passionate kiss, tears over a broken heart, savoring certain foods, friendship, forgiveness, hate, and more? The sciences can pretty well measure much of the whats. But how do you provide empirical data for the whys? You provide reasonable grounds for the whys, but you don’t provide mathematical equations. My wife doesn’t want such nonsense as we share life together by walking the riverfront in downtown Memphis or sip a glass of red wine at one of our favorite restaurants.

So back to superheroes.

People don’t fly…perhaps. People don’t lift 2-ton boulders…perhaps. People don’t travel faster than a speeding bullet…perhaps. But the stories of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, the stories of Frodo and Aragorn, the stories of Aslan and the Pevensies, and many others, remind us that heroes do live. And I’m not even speaking of some overly cheesy Christian perspective on Jesus being the great superhero, though I’m happy to engage in that conversation. I’m talking about actual heroes that remind us that hope is real, strength is real, courage is real, love is real, fidelity is real, perseverance is real, and more.

And remember: All of these are intangible, unmeasurable realities that each of us has encountered at some point in life. What equation do you provide to measure hope, courage, grace, fidelity, etc? What data do you provide to determine why a symphonic piece or theatrical performance moved you on the inside?

So I will continue to teach my sons that Santa Claus, Superman, Fast Fly, and all the others are real. My son can very well desire to be a super policeman when he grows up. It’s an acceptable desire! I cheer him on! I also corrected the false information passed on by his teacher.

I’m not sure where my sons’s first grade teacher stands on these issues. Perhaps I’ll have a conversation (a gracious conversation) one day to find out. But these heroes, and the desires to be like these heroes, remind us of the whys of life. They remind us of what we were truly made for, even who we were truly made for. And they stir us deeply to long for something better than what we at times see with our eyes and touch with our hands.

Onward superheroes and their stories!

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